Tuesday, February 27, 2007

India has rising number of Irrawaddy dolphins

Bhubaneswar: Chilika lake in Orissa is now home to a total of 135 endangered Irrawaddy dolphins, according to a study conducted by the Chilika Development Authority.

The findings of the survey indicated that the lagoon had 115 adult Irrawaddy dolphins, 15 dub-adults and five calves.

As many as 83 persons were involved in the annual survey that was conducted on February 20 by using a number of boats.

It was for the first that the annual dolphin census was conducted by using the global positioning system, according to Sudarshan Panda, chief executive officer of CDA.

A total of 131 dolphins were sighted in the lake during the census carried out in 2006. Eight dolphins were killed in the lake last year, according to the CDA authorities.

The change that was found in the latest study was that the dolphins were traced in different parts of the lagoon. The highest number of dolphins was sighted in the lake's outer channel that is connected to the Bay of Bengal.

According to the statistics available with the CDA, the Irrawaddy dolphin population in the world was around 1000 at present.

Despite a marginal increase in the population of the dolphins in Chilika, the species are constantly under threat from the thousands of boats plying in the lake for the purpose of fishing and ferrying of tourists.

A number of incidents have been reported in the past where the dolphins were killed by getting entangled in the fishing nets or being hit by the propellers of the tourist boats.

Going on a dolphin watch tour can be the experience of a lifetime!

Dolphins show curiosity when they rise above the water surface to look people straight in the eye, in a behavior called glancing.

Elation welled up at John's Pass. "DOLPHINS!," people on a passing boat shrieked at dolphins swimming by. Their captivated cry had the characteristic two-tone inflection. Curiously, most English speakers use the same call to triumphantly announce the presence of dolphins. What class did all of us take that taught us the same gleeful call?

The striking similarity of calls across excited human on-lookers reflects the excitement these sleek gray mammals engender in many people. Dolphins at sea almost invariably generate great human excitement, warm affection, or at least curiosity, often all three.Should we be surprised? After all, humans love animals in general. We're the great nurturing species. Millions of us call pets beloved family members. We cater to pet beauty salons, hotels, training camps and cemeteries. We devote countless hours to observe, conserve and rehabilitate wild animals. Animal TV programs run 24 hours a day. But dolphins?

We seem to hold them in special esteem, especially children. We've mentioned dolphins with admiration as long as we've been writing down human history. I've always wondered if our attraction to dolphins is unique.Maybe people like dolphins because dolphins like people. Actually, I don't know if they like us. But they're clearly curious about us. Maybe this is why we like them. How many free-ranging animals (whom you don't feed) seem curious about you?

Dolphins show curiosity about people when they swim alongside boats at sea, like the many delightful strolls we've been granted with wild dolphins . True, sometimes they only come to surf our bows. But they often swim quietly alongside us as we crane for a closer look . They don't have to do this. Fish certainly don't.Dolphins show further curiosity when they rise above the water surface to look us straight in the eye, behavior called glancing.

Despite their adaptation to the sea, dolphins can see several feet into the air . As we immediately bond to puppies that lick us, we bond to glancing dolphins after just one of these wondrous encounters. No one knows what they actually see when they glance up at us. Dolphins lack the optical pigments for seeing the color blue. Maybe they're just trying to resolve this strange species with the large dark eyes. After all, there are few natural counterparts to sunglasses.

Maybe they're curious about our resounding footsteps as we pound across the boat to get a better look at them. How flattering that they're looking back.Even more intriguing, dolphins leap next to your boat . When they jump repeatedly, are they just trying to get a better look at you? It doesn't happen often and your camera is rarely ready. But isn't it a cherished memory? Then there're those times when they do something unexpected, like the time P suddenly breached twice off our bow before resuming her nearby search for breakfast for the next 15 minutes.

If her gesture meant threat or anger, wouldn't she have swum away?In the few places in the world (NOT the USA) where, with the right permit, you can swim with wild habituated dolphins (dolphins who are used to people), you experience their curiosity directly, like when a dolphin comes over to inspect you.Can you imagine a dolphin approaching directly and stopping three feet away? You hover, waiting. They become very still.

They look deep into your eyes. Their head nods up and down almost imperceptibly. They're echolocating on you, beaming sound through your body. Your heart is pounding. They know it. You don't feel as much as you sense their revealing shower of sound. When they stare deeply and frankly into your eyes, it's like meeting a person in a dolphin costume. As they hold your gaze, you think, "How do you do?" as your hand moves to shake hands.

Talk about an amazing moment with a wild animal.Dolphins' depth of gaze is remarkable considering the blank gaze of many fish and sharks.Finally, free-ranging dolphins show their awareness when they appear to interpret your intentions, like when they wait for you. I'll never forget that first time. I was swimming strong to catch up to a pair of distant dolphins. One glanced back.

Then they did the unforgettable: They stopped and waited. Breathless from swimming and the idea that they might've recognized my intentions, I pulled up next to them. We three fell into step.What class did the dolphins take to learn about humans?

Rarangi woman discovered dead Hector's dolphin on the beach

Rarangi woman Trudie Lasham said the dolphin was found yesterday and the find reported to the Department of Conservation.

DOC ranger Mike Morrissey said that it was not clear what killed the young male dolphin.
It did not have any obvious marks on it.

The dolphin will be sent to Massey University to determine the cause of death.
"It's good that someone reported it straight away."

He said because of the pressures on Hector's dolphins through set nets, each one that died an accidental death was sent off for an autopsy.

Hector's dolphins were not common around Marlborough but were more plentiful in Kaikoura and the loss of every dolphin was considered critical because of the low population numbers, he said.
Mr Morrissey said DOC would probably know the autopsy results within a few days.

"The people of Rarangi have a real interest in the beach and foreshore area and report things like this straight away. It's great."

Mrs Lasham said it was the first dolphin she had seen on the beach since moving there in 1991, but since November, she had found four dead little blue penguins washed up and had alerted DOC.

Tuesday, February 20, 2007

Dolphin dying of broken heart after keeper's murder

A rare grampus dolphin, rescued 18 months ago after it swam into an Italian port, seems to be dying of a broken heart after the woman who reared it like her own child was murdered.

Tamara Monti, 37, the creature's keeper, was stabbed to death two weeks ago by the man who lived in the flat above her. Police found an unemployed man, Alessandro Doto, 35, standing in the street outside the block where they lived, frozen like a dummy with a blood-spattered knife in his hand. He told them Ms Monti's two dogs barked all day and it drove him mad.

The issue had been simmering between them for months. Ms Monti and her partner had found a new place to live with their cat and dogs and were due to move the next day.

Ms Monti was from the Lake Como region, hundreds of miles north-west of Riccione, a resort on the Adriatic coast just south of Rimini, but Riccione had taken her to its heart. The town was in mourning on hearing of her death. But no one missed her like Mary G.

The grampus dolphin was a calf in June 2005 when she and her mother blundered into the port of Ancona, south of Riccione, and ran aground. They were rescued and brought to hospital, but Mary G's mother died three days later. After two months the dolphin had recovered sufficiently to be brought to Oltremare Park in Riccione, a seaside theme park, where she was given a pool of sea water and the constant attendance of experts. They bottle-fed her a mixture of herring, vitamins and mineral salts, rocked her like a baby and gave her swimming lessons. But only one of the keepers talked to her as if she were her own child, and that was Ms Monti.

As Mary G grew, she became the park's big attraction. Her fame spread through Italy, via websites, television programmes and blogs. Visitors flocked to Riccione to see her.

"We wanted to return her to the open sea," said Sauro Pari, head of the organisation that runs the park, "but international experts advised against it. They told us she would not survive."

Instead the grampus dolphin with the comical rounded forehead and cartoon-like grin, and her surrogate mother, remained together - for life, or so it appeared.

But now Mary G is dying. The word began to spread within days of Ms Monti's murder, through the blogs and websites devoted to her. One message read: "Since Tamara's death, Mary is unwell. Let's help her." She would either refuse her diet of milk and squid, or eat it then spew it out.
Mary G's weight plummeted from 210kg to 160kg in a couple of weeks. As happened 18 months ago, she is being attended by specialist vets, but has so far failed to respond to treatment.

At the theme park, dolphin experts are going out of their way to deny any firm connection between the keeper's murder and the dolphin's sickness. They say there is a simple explanation for her rejection of food: an intestinal parasite which she could have acquired at any time.

"From a strictly scientific point of view we absolutely cannot assert that the two facts are connected," Mr Pari said. "But there is no doubt that her grief for the death of Tamara is great. We are very worried about what will become of her."

Las Vegas Casino makes changes concerning dolphins' care!

LAS VEGAS - Eleven of 16 dolphins housed in a dolphin exhibit at a Las Vegas Strip casino have died since the facility opened in 1990, according to federal records and interviews with resort officials.

The records obtained by the Las Vegas Review-Journal show most of the dolphin deaths at The Mirage's Dolphin Habitat were attributed to natural causes, and that casino officials have taken steps to change the way the dolphins are cared for and the habitat is maintained.

Mirage officials say the exhibit, which features 2.5 million gallons of water, has an exemplary reputation for animal care in the marine mammal display industry.

But animal welfare advocates contend dolphins never were made for such public displays and say they're not impressed with The Mirage's efforts.

``It's not simply a case of bad luck that that number has died,'' said Dena Jones, program manager for the World Society for the Protection of Animals' U.S. office in Framingham, Mass. ``Captive dolphins die regularly at relatively young ages ... The people (at The Mirage) may be well-meaning and the facility may be well-run, but these type of captive environments can't reproduce conditions in the wild.''

The newspaper obtained records from the National Oceanic & Atmospheric Administration that include an inventory of the dolphins at The Mirage and cause of death for those that died. All of The Mirage's dolphins were either obtained from other facilities or bred at the facility.

The causes of the dolphins' deaths included severe chronic pancreatitis, a pulmonary abscess, respiratory problems and pneumonia. Two of the dolphin deaths could be a result of hereditary problems passed down from another dolphin in the habitat, Mirage spokesman Gordon Absher said.

Three of the 11 deceased animals were estimated to be older than the average life expectancy of 25 years when they died.

Three other dolphins born at The Mirage are alive and well at the exhibit. A fourth dolphin named Duchess, born about 1975, is also doing well. A fifth dolphin at the exhibit, Lightning, was obtained through an exchange with a Florida facility, and is healthy.

In December 2005, the USDA and The Mirage entered into a settlement agreement in which the hotel agreed to make undisclosed changes as to how it cares for the dolphins at the exhibit.
``The parties recognize that the licensee has voluntarily taken steps to evaluate and to improve its operations,'' the agreement states.

Mirage officials declined to disclose the changes.

The casino did acknowledge that it occasionally allows VIP guests to swim with the dolphins.
``It's the mutual existence of meeting the requests of your VIP guests while at the same time maintaining the integrity of the facility,'' Absher said of the celebrity swim-alongs.

The Mirage has the proper federal permit to let individuals swim with the dolphins, and hotel officials are adamant that the dolphins never are put in harm's way.

Dolphin dies after beaching itself

A dolphin that beached itself in Port Aransas Friday afternoon died about an hour after stranding itself, University of Texas Marine Science Institute officials said.

The dolphin, an old male, was found by residents who were walking near the south jetty at about 12:30 p.m., said Tony Amos, director of the Animal Rehabilitation Keep at the Marine Science Institute.

Residents first tried to push the animal back into the ocean, but it then flopped back to shore a short time later, he said.

"It was an old male and so weak, there was nothing we really could have done," Amos said.

Captain of charter boat fined for shooting near dolphin

An Orange Beach charter boat captain was fined and placed on probation for firing a shot near a bottlenose dolphin, a violation of federal law.

Don G. Walker, 51, pleaded guilty Wednesday in federal court to the misdemeanor offense of unlawful "taking" of a marine mammal. The law defines that offense as "harassing, hunting, capturing or killing" a marine mammal or attempting to do so.

U.S. Magistrate Judge William Cassady sentenced Walker to one year of unsupervised probation. He also fined him $1,000 and ordered him to contribute $1,000 to the Mote Marine Laboratory in Sarasota, Fla., for a public education campaign the lab is developing to warn people not to feed dolphins.

Walker said he was not aware of the law.

told Cassady it was a "hard lesson learned."

"I promise you won't see or hear from me again," he told the judge.

Walker, a charter boat operator for 27 years, admitted to firing the shot into the Gulf of Mexico from his vessel, the Lady D, in June after a bottlenose dolphin tried to eat a fish off the line. Walker's attorney said he did not believe the bullet struck the dolphin, although the prosecutor said it wasn't known.

The case was brought against Walker after some of the customers made a complaint against him following the fishing trip.

Monday, February 12, 2007

Rescued dolphin has sad fate

The dolphin, who was swimming in a circle near the docks, appeared to be sick. A center technician got in the water with the mammal to assess its condition.

Rescue technicians got the dolphin out of the water and into a marine mammal ambulance to see if it could be medically treated by a veterinarian. However, the mammal's condition continued to deteriorate and the decision was made to euthanize it.

Several tests will be done on the dolphin's remains. Officials are checking to see if it is related to any of the dolphins that were stranded off the New York coast in January. Several of those dolphins died as well.

Friday, February 09, 2007

Japanese scientist to study underwater dolphin behaviour

A Japanese team of scientists have embarked on a project to study the behaviour of Irrawaddy dolphins found in Orissa's vast Chilika lagoon by using specially designed state-of-the-art technology.

The study, being undertaken following a Memorandum of Understanding (MOU) signed between the Chilika Development Authority (CDA) and the University of Tokyo in April last year, includes observation of dolphin behaviour as also estimation of its population size.

Prof Tamaki Ura, an expert at the Underwater Technology Research Centre of the Institute of Industrial Science at University of Tokyo, who is leading the Japanese team said that a continuous monitoring system was being developed for observing Irrawaddy dolphins in real time from a base centre set up at the CDA office at Satpada, a tourism hub on the edge of the lake.

"The experiment began as a pilot project last year. But we conducted static and dynamic tests of the acoustic technology between January 28 and February Three, the results of which are yet to be analysed," Ura told a news conference here on Sunday night.

Ura's team is being assisted by Prof Rajender Bahl, group head, signal processing at IIT, Delhi as also researchers from WWF-India and Wildlife wing of the Orissa Government.

CDA Chief Executive Officer Sudarshan Panda said according to an enumeration conducted last year, there were 123 Irrawaddy dolphins in Chilika, mostly in the outer portion of the lagoon connected to the Bay of Bengal through a channel.

Panda said, CDA planned to conduct a visual survey of the dolphins on February 19 and 20 next. "The data will be compared with the underwater information being collected by the team of scientists and researchers from Japan," he said.

Altogether sixty persons would be deployed for the enumeration in 18 groups, Panda said.
According to Ura, five hydrophones--underwater microphones -- were used for the experiments and found to be very efficient.

He pointed out that small cetaceans such as dolphins and porpoises emitted sonar pulses, which they used as an echolocation tool for finding prey and for navigation.

These sound pulses appear as clicks of specified signal duration and bandwidth to an observer. These clicks could be observed with specially designed underwater hydrophones, he said.

These passive observation methods could also be automated to allow day-night observation in turbid waters without causing any disturbance to the animals.

Friday, February 02, 2007

Extinction of Yangtze river dolphin caused by river's condition

SAND-dredging and river pollution are threatening the very existence of white fin in the Yangtze River.Chinese experts are increasingly concerned about the possible extinction of white fin since an international expedition declared that the Yangtze River dolphin, or baiji, or white fin, is "functionally extinct."

And while the baiji has received great attention, another Yangzte cetacean, the Yangtze finless porpoise or jiangzhu, literally river pig, is also on the way to extinction. The reason: Reckless industrial pollution, dumping of human waste and marathon sand dredging.Over six-weeks between November and December, scientists with high-performance optical instruments and underwater microphones covered over 3,500 kilometers of the Yangtze River.

"The moment that experts disembarked from the ships, was the moment that humankind bid farewell to the 20-million-year-old baiji,' said Wang Kexiong, an expert at the Institute of Hydrobiology in Wuhan. Called the "Goddess of the Yangtze," the baiji was revered by the ancient peoples along the Yangtze, who believed that the white 'fish,' the same size as a human being, could help safeguard sailing.In the early 1980s, the Yangtze reportedly had around 400 baiji swimming its waters. A 1997 survey yielded 13 confirmed sightings.

The last confirmed sighting of a baiji was in September 2004.As the most recent expedition returned to land, having failed to sight a single baiji, August Pfluger, head of the Baiji.org Foundation and co-organizer of the expedition, pronounced the species "functionally extinct."Wang Kexiong expressed his concerns for the future of the Yangtze's entire ecological system, saying: "Cetaceans (whales, dolphins and porpoises) live at the top of the food chain - if they are threatened by extinction, it means that their food sources are also dwindling and biodiversity in the Yangtze River is degenerating.

"The water quality in the Yangtze has changed remarkably along with China's economic growth, the increase in shipping, coupled with the dumping of waste in the river has polluted the waters.Sand dredgingAccording to experts, however, the most obvious threat to the existence of dolphins is the rampant sand-dredging along the river.The Yangtze, its tributaries and lakes are filled with sand-dredging barges. There are about 12 sand-loaded ships for every kilometer of the Yangtze. However, a survey by the expedition estimated that the number of ships per kilometer in the lower reaches of the river could be 30 to 60.

The Yangtze is being dredged to deepen its channel to accommodate heavier shipping."The noise pollution is already a torture for humankind, let alone for sound-sensitive cetaceans underwater. It makes the baiji prone to collisions with ship propellers and prevents them from finding a mate, hunting and communicating with others," said Wang Kexiong.Removing riverbed sand also destroys the habitats of other animal and plant that are sources of food for baiji.The Chinese government has been tightening measures to forbid sand dredging in the main channel of the Yangtze, however, local governments are continuing to issue permits for dredging in the river's tributaries and surrounding lakes."

A ship-full of sand yields a profit of at least 100,000 yuan (US$12,500) - more than enough to drive thousands of people into the business," Wang said.The Yangtze River basin is home to 400 million people, roughly a third of China's total population - all of whose waste ends up being dumped into the river.According to the State Environmental Protection Administration, the amount of wastewater discharged into the Yangtze has shot up by almost two thirds - from 11.39 billion tons in 1998 to 18.42 billion tons in 2005.

Weng Lida, an expert with the Yangtze Valley Water Resources Protection Bureau, commented how the pollution endangers some 500 city drinking-water sources along the river."Many cities and towns fail to treat sewage properly - merely 15 percent of domestic sewage is treated properly before being discharged into the river," Weng said.There are about 1,133 lakes in the middle and lower reaches of the river, said Wang Ding, deputy director of the hydrobiology institute. "All of these, except Dongting Lake, are equipped with dams, sluice gates, bridges or reinforced banks." Wang then went on to explain how these dams and sluice gates have robbed the baiji of their normal habitat and cut off the migration routes of fish on which they feed.

The expedition team collected water and sediment samples along the route of the river. "The results might be gloomy," said Wang, "the Yangtze pollution is serious. Discharge from a thermal industrial plant could produce a steaming river section for several kilometers, while discharge from paper mills or chemical plants could cover some sections with a thick, multi-colored layer of scum."Surveys show that in the mid-1980s, the Yangtze was home to some 126 animal species, however, by 2002 that number had fallen to just 52.

Since 2003, a closed fishing season has been brought into effect to recover fish resources. Despite this, the situation has not improved.Cao Dongsheng, a fisherman from Yueyang County in Hunan Province, said: "Twenty years ago, by using traditional fishing methods, we could harvest 100kg of fish every day."Today, there are little fish left in the river, as people are using poisons, electric fishing, and illegal fishing nets."

Dolphin beached on Jamaican beach

Experts tried to save a beached dolphin found in Galveston Tuesday morning but their efforts failed.

The dolphin was found on the far west end of Jamaica Beach.

Jamaica Beach police tried to keep it alive until the experts arrived but the dolphin didn't survive.
A necropsy may be performed on the animal to determine the cause of death.

Dolphin's toy responsible of bomb scare!

A dolphin's toy that resembled a bomb scared spectators Wednesday and prompted officials at a marine park to call 911. A dolphin playing in a tank at Theater of the Sea surfaced with several items, including one that looked like a homemade bomb.

The toy in question was a softball-sized glass jar containing a black substance and covered by a white substance, the Monroe County Sheriff's Office said.

Authorities said about 15 people, mostly employees, evacuated the facility around 11 a.m. while the sheriff's bomb squad investigated, The Key West Citizen reported.

Pregnant dolphin refuses to go back to wildlife

A pregnant bottlenose dolphin whom marine experts hoped to release Tuesday swam back to shore three times, forcing them to take her to a rehabilitation center.The 10-foot-long dolphin named Castaway had been recovering at the Mote Marine Laboratory in Sarasota since she stranded Nov. 11.

She was deemed healthy for release off Fort Pierce Tuesday, but instead of swimming offshore, she returned to the beach, according to Steve McCulloch of the Harbor Branch Oceanographic Institution. The final effort was made by placing Castaway amid a pod of dolphins, about 2 1/2miles offshore. But the dolphin refused to stay with the pod and swam slowly back to shore.

"It's impossible to speculate why she did not respond more favorably [to the release]," McCulloch said. "Our paramount concern is she is in the third trimester of pregnancy and we are actually dealing with two dolphins, not one."Castaway was taken to the Marine Mammal Conservancy in the Florida Keys.

Quick "Facts about Dolphins"